Tacking up your horse is not just about throwing a saddle and bridle on your horse and jumping on. It is imperative to first groom your horse and clean his or her feet before tacking up. Putting a saddle pad and saddle on top of a very dirty or muddy horse could be asking for the beginning of annoying saddle sores. Also, you should pick out your horses feet in order to check and make sure that there is nothing stuck and held in by the shoe, and to check and make sure that their shoes are not loose or any clenches, (where the blacksmith has cut off the nail and clenched them down as they are sharp), are sticking out. Sharp clenches can cut your horses legs while in movement especially if they were to take a bad step or spook or shy from something.
It does not matter whether you ride English or Western, a saddle should sit in a specific way on a horse. Even though this seems to be so simple, it is very easy to set the saddle either too far forward, which will cause girth sores behind the elbow, or too far back and this can cause a sore back and you really do not want to be sitting on your horses kidneys. After you place your saddle towel and saddle pad on your horse and then the saddle, on the right side of the saddle is where the girth is attached. The girth is what is used to keep the saddle on and when properly tightened it will keep the saddle where it should be. Having the correct size girth is very important. I remember an exercise rider that told me that she did not want to get on a horse that was brought to her claiming that the girth was too small. The groom insisted that it was ok. Time being a factor and trying to keep up with the rest of the other riders, she got her leg up, (this is when someone helps you to mount the horse by holding your left leg and you take a little hop and up you go), on the horse and off she went. Well, the girth broke from too much pressure and she broke her back and was in the hospital for one year. So please take this seriously. If you are on your horse and they would decide to cut a buck or misbehave, a secure saddle is your best friend.
On the horse, at the very top of the back side of the front leg where the elbow is, you will notice a slight narrowing of the body with a slight indentation; this is the girth of the horse which runs all the way underneath of the horse in this area. Naturally, that is where your girth should be. If the girth is in the right place, it will be fairly comfortable for your horse providing you do not tighten the girth too much. This sometimes takes a little time to find the comfort zone. After you have tightened the girth it should come up on either side of the horse evenly, at least about halfway up the side of the horse on each side. If you get on your horse and you feel like you are going to fall forward, then the saddle is up too far. If the front of your saddle is sitting behind the end of your horses’ mane on their withers, then you are too far back. When you are in the right spot, you will feel comfortable when sitting on your horse, especially when using English tack. If you are using Western tack and you have a bucking strap, this should fit loosely but not too loose that the horse can get their hind leg entangled.
When putting your bridle on, hold the bit in your left hand, hold the headstall with your right hand, look at your horses head and judge whether the length of the headstall looks big enough to fit. If it seems too small, let the bridle down a couple of holes and this will make it easier to get the bridle over yours horses ears. Stand on the left side of your horse, bridle in left hand, put the reigns over the horses head and down the neck to the shoulder. Take your right hand putting it through the back of the headstall and take your left hand and hold the bit. Put the bridle in front of your horses head, holding your right hand with the bridle in front of the horses face at the same time bring the bit to the horses’ mouth asking your horse to open their mouth and accept the bit. As the horse takes the bit, using your right hand, put the bridle over the left ear first and then over the right ear. Fasten the jowl strap leaving about two fingers of space between the horse and strap. If you tighten this strap too much when the horse flexes their head, the strap will cut off some of their air flow. Next, tighten the bit. Some people like two wrinkles in their mouth. It depends on the horse. Some horses, two wrinkles is too much and the bit will be too tight and uncomfortable possibly causing the horse to throw their head while being ridden. Some people like the four finger rule that if you take four fingers and put them between the horse and bridle on the side of their head, they then believe that is sufficient. For me, that is sometimes too loose. You definitely do not want the bit hanging down and sitting on the bars of the horses’ mouth, this can make their mouth sore. The bit should be up in their mouth but not too far. You really must use your common sense. Try to put yourself in your horses place. If it looks uncomfortable, it probably is. If your horse seems to be objecting, make changes. If you have to make changes again and again, well then keep changing it until you get it right. Learning to tack your horse properly takes a little time as well as trial and error, but once you figure it out, you will not want it any other way. Happy trails to you.